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89th Oscar Foreign Language Film: What Should the Philippines Submit?   6 comments

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It’s the time of the year! By September, the Film Academy of the Philippines will submit one movie to the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts, and Sciences (AMPAS) that will be our bid to the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 89th Academy Awards. This will be our 28th participating year and we are yet to receive a nomination.

To qualify as an eligible submission, the Academy’s rule states that “The motion picture must be first released in the country submitting it no earlier than October 1, 2015, and no later than September 30, 2016, and be first publicly exhibited for at least seven consecutive days in a commercial motion picture theater for the profit of the producer and exhibitor.

Currently nine countries have already announced their submissions with our likely winner, Germany’s Toni Erdmann, in the longlist already. So which film will be our best bet to advance forward? I’ve divided them in three different categories.

DISCLAIMER: It has to be cleared that this ISN’T the final shortlist from the Film Academy of the Philippines yet, and are just mere speculations and recommendations.

FRONTRUNNERS:

anino sa likod ng kahapon

ANINO SA LIKOD NG BUWAN
Director: Jun Lana
Screenplay: Jun Lana
Cast: LJ Reyes, Luis Alandy, Anthony Falcon
Philippine Release Date: July 20, 2016

Amidst conflict between the military and communists, three people are confronted with a difficult dilemma.

Jun Lana, no stranger from Oscar representative (he directed our 2012 submission Bwakaw), is in contention yet again for his latest effort which is a one-long two-hour take staged just like a play with only three characters interacting all throughout the movie. The film also has participated alongside many different international festivals both in Asia and Europe (though none in the Big 4 major film festivals). That said, the film is unanimously considered as one of the best from 2015 among local critics.

felix manalo

FELIX MANALO
Director: Joel Lamangan
Screenplay: Bienvenido Santiago
Cast: Dennis Trillo, Bela Padilla, Gabby Concepcion
Philippine Release Date: October 7, 2015

Felix Ysagun Manalo is a sprawling historical epic that traces the origin of Iglesia Ni Cristo (The Church of Christ) which is established in the Philippines from its humble beginnings in 1914 through the present day.

Definitely one of the most divisive films of last year, Felix Manalo is epic in its landscape detailing one of the most important personalities among Iglesia ni Cristo’s history. This almost three-hour movie boasts so much of its lavish production design and staging, that it would tick all boxes in an “baity Oscar film” checklist. But beyond the grandeur is a straightforward storytelling, and one that was considered as “weak” and “safe” by most critics. That said, never underestimate the taste of the FAP to include this in the shortlist, as they’re one easily swayed by buzz regardless if those were organic or fabricated.

hele sa hiwagang hapis

HELE SA HIWAGANG HAPIS
Director: Lav Diaz
Screenplay: Lav Diaz
Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Piolo Pascual, Susan Africa
Philippine Release Date: March 26, 2016

In the midst of revolution, a young poet and the man that ruined his life travel through the jungle in search of safety. At the same time, a grieving widow encounters mystical beings on a mountain while searching for the body of her beloved revolutionary.

Winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year (with jury president Meryl Streep awarding them), there’s no doubt that this is one of the two most-buzzed films we have in world cinema for this year. Imagine if we submitted this and have Oscar winner Meryl Streep and Oscar nominee Clive Owen campaign this right? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves as that’s a bit of a reaching. The thing with Hele is that we have already attempted to submit a Diaz film back in 2014 via Norte which is half the running time of this one and arguably his most universal effort thus far, and yet the Academy didn’t give in to it.

honor thy father

HONOR THY FATHER
Director: Erik Matti
Screenplay: Erik Matti, Michiko Yamamoto
Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Meryll Soriano, Tirso Cruz III
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2015

A family is caught in a financial ruin after being involved in a ponzi scheme.

With an Erik Matti film in contention yet again, it reminds me of probably the biggest miss we had not submitting On the Job back in 2013. What made that more infuriating was the committee’s response that they don’t want to submit a film that shows a negative image of the Philippines. Yeah, right. Anyway, Matti is back again this time with the MMFF entry Honor Thy Father which made its premiere a year ago at the Toronto International Film Festival. Honor‘s best shot is that I can see the film appealing to the Western crowd with its theme and execution. That said, the film feels bit of an after thought by now, but with every controversy that the film has encountered, it just ended up soaring higher. Maybe, FAP atones to Erik Matti this time around?

ignacio de loyola

IGNACIO DE LOYOLA
Director: Paolo Dy, Cathy Azanza
Screenplay: Paolo Dy
Cast: Andreas Munoz, Javier Godino, Julio Perillan
Philippine Release Date: July 27, 2016

In 16th Century Spain, a soldier born of nobility gives his life of luxury to become a pilgrim devoted to God and his people.

Watch out Felix Manalo, there’s another religious biography in contention. Kidding aside, I can already imagine the FAP members creaming themselves over this one. For one, the casting of a foreign star in lead role will make them think it can add extra buzz to our own entry (this isn’t an Oscar rule after all. Lots of foreign actors starred in films from other countries which ended up as submissions. Case in point: French star Emmanuelle Riva in Austria’s Amour, Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal in Chilean film No, and even our own Angeli Bayani in Sinagpore’s Ilo-ilo). Plus, the religious theme somehow gives it more importance and a “good image” per se in representing the country (which apparently is an unwritten rule; see: On the Job again in 2013).

ma'rosa

MA’ROSA
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Screenplay: Troy Espiritu
Cast: Jaclyn Jose, Andi Eigenmann, Julio Diaz, Felix Roco, Jomari Angeles
Philippine Release Date: July 6, 2016

A poor family scrambles to find the money to pay off the corrupt policemen that have arrested the parents for dealing drugs.

Sure it was one of the least buzzed entries at Cannes main competition this year, until the great Jaclyn Jose earned the coveted Best Actress win and the rest, as they say, is history. Ma’Rosa is currently participating now at Toronto International Film Festival and I think it has the most buzz for any Filipino film competing for this year when it comes to foreign exposure. And at this stage, after all his trips to Cannes and Berlin and Venice and TIFF, isn’t Brillante Mendoza overdue for a Filipino Oscar submission? I lobbied that Taklub was our best shot last year, but they can make up for it with Ma’Rosa this year.

pamilya ordinario

PAMILYA ORDINARYO
Director: Eduardo Roy Jr.
Screenplay: Eduardo Roy Jr.
Cast: Ronwaldo Martin, Hasmine Killip, Sue Prado, Moira Lang
Philippine Release Date: August 31, 2016

Jane and Aries are teenage parents. They make a living out of stealing on the streets… until fate hits back at them.

After sweeping major awards at the recently concluded Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival including wins for Best Picture, Best Director for Eduardo Roy Jr., and Best Actress for newcomer Hasmine Killip, this runaway favorite is getting an instant cinema release in time for the Oscar cutoff. Add the fact that it’s also heading to Venice under the “Venice Days” sidebar (think of it as their answer to Cannes’ Directors Fortnight section), and it’s on the right track. This also has the makings to appeal to an international audience,

POTENTIAL SHORTLIST MENTIONS:

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Don’t be surprised to see any of these films in this group make it in the final shortlist.

DUKOT
Director: Paul Soriano
Screenplay: Froilan Medina
Cast: Enrique Gil, Ricky Davao, Christopher de Leon, Shaina Magdayao
Philippine Release Date: July 13, 2016

With Paul Soriano helming it (one of the producers of our 2013 Oscar submission “Transit“), this suspense drama about an abducted son also brags of an ensemble composed of some of the biggest names in the country both newbies and veterans.

ANG HAPIS AT HIMAGSIK NI HERMANO PULI
Director: Gil Portes
Screenplay: Enrique Ramos
Cast: Aljur Abrenica, Louise delos Reyes, Enzo Pineda, Menggie Cobarrubias
Philippine Release Date: September 21, 2016

In the tradition of our love for hero films — some of which are deserved (last year’s Heneral Luna), some of which are good (Supremo), and some which are just flat out terrible (El Presidente), let’s say hello to Hermano Puli.

MAGTANGGOL
Director: Sigfreid Barros-Sanchez
Screenplay: Henrie Enaje, Henry dela Cruz, Sigfreid Barros Sanchez
Cast: Dina Bonnevie, Ejay Falcon, Joonee Gamboa, Tom Rodriguez
Philippine Release Date: June 8, 2016

Only because of its serious topical theme (with them even doing special screening this National Heroes Day), I can see this political themed film making a (not so) surprise appearance in the shortlist. Think of how Kamkam by Joel Lamangan made it to the Top 4 in 2014.

A SECOND CHANCE
Director: Cathy Garcia-Molina
Screenplay: Henrie Enaje, Henry dela Cruz, Sigreid Barros Sanchez
Cast: Carmi Raymundo, Vanesssa Valdez, Cathy Garcia-Molina
Philippine Release Date: November 25, 2015

We have that one slot, almost always reserved to those box office hits that tackle more serious topics than the usual. Not to say that they aren’t deserving since most of them actually are, but they  happen to end up in the shortlist. Examples include 2008’s Caregiver, or 2010’s Sa’yo Lamang, maybe even last year’s That Thing Called Tadhana can somewhat be considered.

TANDEM
Director: King Palisoc
Screenplay: Zig Marasigan
Cast: JM de Guzman, Nico Antonio, Rochelle Pangilinan
Philippine Release Date: February 17, 2016

As for starters, the producers of this film were also the producers of our previous submission Heneral Luna, so if anything, they;d sure be willing to campaign. This film got good to great reviews with solid performances from the leads, but if you compare it to other entries, it’s a tad low-key (in terms of buzz and not of film quality). And if it’s already low-key here, can you imagine how it would fare to the foreign market?

WALANG FOREVER
Director: Dan Villegas
Screenplay: Paul Sta. Ana
Cast: Jennylyn Mercado, Jericho Rosales, Lorna Tolentino
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2015

For an MMFF film, this one got solid reviews and even swept the Gabi ng Parangal of last year. This is also from the Dan Villegas and Jennylyn Mercado team-up, which reminds us that English Only Please, was part of the short-list that year.

ELIGIBILITY ISSUES:

tier 3

So these movies have appeared in different indie film festivals but haven’t fulfilled the seven-day commercial distribution yet. This does not mean that these movies are bad obviously they’re not because there have been buzz for some of them to be submitted. Well, they still have the whole month of September to book a screening if they plan to be considered eligible. Or they can wait for next year instead. For what it’s worth, some films who made it in the shortlist the previous years aren’t from the same year where they participated in festivals. As for examples, the 2008 Cinemalaya film Boses only got a commercial screening in 2012, and thus was included in the shortlist for the 2012 Oscars. Same goes for Ian Lorenos’ Alagwa which gave Jericho Rosales his Urian in 2012 but was in the 2014 shortlist.

FINAL VERDICT:

For this year, I think we can trim it down to three films which would all be decent submissions by any means. For starters, there’s the John Lloyd starrer Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis with its Berlin victory, but is simply hindered by the 8-hr running time. Not that Lav Diaz needs Oscars anyway to validate his impressive work; it’s just that sometimes the Academy just doesn’t fit into a certain director’s style. Then there’s the other John Lloyd starrer Honor Thy Father, which I can see a scenario with it connecting to a foreign audience, if they’re gonna push it hard and run aggressive with it. That’s a big if, by the way. In the end, maybe Jaclyn Jose’s Cannes win can also be Brillante Mendoza’s first RP submission to the Academy. It’s doing its assignment by participating in TIFF and its Cannes win, but us submitting a Mendoza film for once won’t do us any harm, regardless of the end result if it gets in or not.

Share your thoughts with me! You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

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5 Best ABS-CBN Christmas Station IDs   Leave a comment

xmas

When we think of Christmas, we’re reminded of a lot of things: completing the simbang gabi, the smell of fresh puto bumbong and bibingka, colorful Christmas decorations in Ayala, and endless shopping mall sales. Oh, and the  launch of ABS-CBN’s annual Christmas-themed station ID. Starting back in 2003, ABS-CBN’s tradition of producing these videos definitely adds more excitement to the holiday season. A dozen years later, it’s clear that they aren’t competing anymore with anyone when it comes to station IDs; as a matter of fact, they’re running this game already. ABS-CBN has already mastered the art of producing such that launching it is considered an event of its own already. Last week, they’ve finally released the one for 2015 with the theme “Thank You For the Love!” (which you can watch here) and sung by their triumvirate loveteams Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo, James Reid and Nadine Lustre, and Enrique Gil and Liza Soberano, alongside The Voice Kids 2 champion Elha Nympha and her coach Bamboo.

Let’s do the perfect holiday throwback as we go back at five of their best Christmas station ID outputs yet.

5. “Lumiliwanag ang Mundo sa Kwento ng Pasko” (2012)

2012 was when ABS-CBN started the tradition of incorporating their different advocacy in their station IDs. When previous years would simply focus on doing reenactments of the different Christmas traditions, they’ve now included snippets of the actual gift giving and helping to the victims of the different typhoons, as well as interviews to the survivors. Consider it tacky or exploitative if you like, but no doubt it started the trend of the heart tugging stories that makes the holidays feel really more about love.

Highlights:  Dawn Zulueta putting up her lantern in her US grapevine house, a shot of an old Ivatan couple setting up their lantern, and Gerald Anderson visiting a barangay severely affected by the typhoons.

4. “Magkasama Tayo sa Kwento ng Pasko” (2013)

2012 was the trial year, but 2013 was when they fleshed out more of these different human Christmas stories of Pinoys all over the world. It started with Gemma, an OFW based in Hong Kong narrating that she would miss the holidays to earn more money for her family. Then there’s a habal-habal driver in Cebu, Kim Chiu’s “family” that she visited for a reality show years before, and a married old couple based in the US now among many others. This year’s jingle, sung by The Voice Philippines coaches and top four, is also one of their catchier ones.

Highlights: Piolo Pascual surprising the OFW in Hong Kong, Judy Ann Santos visiting survivors in the Woman’s Crisis Center, and John Lloyd Cruz giving tribute to a loyal ABSCBN employee.

3. “Angat ang Ligaya ng Pasko” (2006)

Now if you’re fed up with the current format of the dramatic ones, the 2006 is a perfect throwback to the heydays when the station ID is less than four minutes, and Christmas is mostly seen as a purely festive celebration. Using APO’s Christmas classic “Tuloy Na Tuloy Pa Rin ang Pasko“, only this time sung by Orange & Lemons, this station ID is probably what detractors of the current format prefer. It’s short but it’s starstudded, it’s colorful and still celebratory, and those network wars fanatics can’t accuse it of being self-serving.

Highlights: That Church scene with Sharon Cuneta “reading” probably a Bible verse to the audience (also filled of the different Kapamilya celebrities), the late Johhny Delagdo dressed as Santa Claus giving gifts to children, and that final shot of the late Comedy King Dolphy, Susan Roces, Maricel Soriano, and Judy Ann Santos (talk about star power) leading other celebrities off the church.

2. “Star ng Pasko” (2009)

This is probably the greatest Christmas jingle ABS-CBN has ever produced. Fresh off the wounds of Typhoon Ondoy that year, combined with the “Bro” fever from their then primetime series May Bukas Pa, this is the song that we can safely call as the Christmas theme of 2009. Literally all the choirs in the country have included it in their repertoire of songs, and whether you visit malls or schools, this is the only song that’s being played. And you’d understand why. This has captured the essence of the Filipino spirit, and how Christmas is still seen as a day of love, a tradition that will never fade. The actual video delivers as well, with everyone waving their own star shaped lanterns, nevermind if they’re all singing the chorus for more or less, nine minutes.

Highlights: The little kid in the beginning pulling a set of lanterns from the mud, the lanterns forming a star-shaped creation in the middle, Kris Aquino with her new born son Bimby in the video.

1. “Isang Pamilya, Isang Puso Ngayong Pasko” (2002)

They say that the first one is really hard to beat, and in this case, that’s really true. The first Christmas-themed station ID they’ve made would probably put any other station IDs to shame when it comes to star power wattage. You have the late Comedy King Dolphy and the Action King Fernado Poe Jr., as for starters. Then fans of those so-called actressing would be delighted, as this also featured Superstar Nora Aunor, Star for All Seasons Vilma Santos, Diamond Star Maricel Soriano, and Megastar Sharon Cuneta in it. If I have to list the 100+ Kapamilyas in it (ranging from teleserye actors to musicians to the News & Current Affairs people), we’d probably never reach the end.

Highlights: Vilma Santos dancing with a student in the classroom, Nora Aunor lighting the huge candle, FPJ doing his trademark salute before Dolphy releases the lantern on top of the huge Christmas tree.

What are your favorite Christmas station IDs?Happy Holidays everyone!

Let’s talk on Twitter: @nikowl

REVIEW: The Strangers   6 comments

The Strangers

I admit that I was pleasantly surprised to see director Lawrence Fajardo participate at this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival. I was more surprised though that the committee gave it a green light. Not that Fajardo is bad or anything, but with the current crap crop of movies that we see every December, but it’s more of a welcome surprise to the more mainstream filmfest. His entry entitled The Strangers stars youngsters Enchong Dee, Enrique Gil, and Julia Montes together with veterans such as Cherry Pie Picache, Janice de Belen, and Jaime Fabregas.

Twins Max (Enrique Gil) and Patricia (Julia Montes) celebrated their 18th birthday. Together with the rest of the family (mother Cherrie Pie Picache, father Johnny Revilla, grandfather Jaime Fabregas) and helper Paloma (Janice de Belen), they went off to a trip in the province. On their way there, things got worse which prompted them to stay there for the night. On the other hand, Paloma narrated the story of a famous aswang named Dolfo who was taking revenge because that’s how her wife died. How these two stories connected with each other is how the rest of the movie unfolds.

I, for one, loved how the first part of the movie dealt with simply introducing the characters. It’s a brilliant way of setting the atmosphere of fear and possible familiarity with what’s about to happen. In the end, there was a twist; one that I don’t particularly think worked well since I felt that the writing got so focused on pulling off that twist that everything else just faltered. Yes, the twist was indeed unseen, but it just got lost in the middle of everything else. When you are not engaged yet to the first scenario that was presented to you, it’s hard to suddenly jump to the next one, given that the first one was just a cover up to the second one. I felt that’s the weak part of the movie that could have affected its overall outcome.

With that said, there’s a lot of good potential in the film. The lead stars were engaging and charismatic enough to pull off their roles. Enchong Dee was obviously too committed to his role, and it definitely shows here. Both Enrique Gil and Julia Montes were decent too. The veterans were given moments to shine as well, and I even thought Janice de Belen’s Paloma was a real catch (only to be topped by Janice de Belen in Shake, Rattle, and Roll). Jaime Fabregas, Cherry Pie Picache, and Johnny Revilla were also game enough despite not having the most screen times in the film.

Technical achievements were highly commendable too. The make up, sound, and specifically the visual effects were slick and polished, not to the point that they’re difficult to the eyes. They managed to maintain a visual treat that was consistent from start to end. All in all, I felt that while the twist worked, it’s not enough to leave you breathless since the rest of the story was too weak to pull that one off. But I’d give them props for even trying.

Grade: 2.5/5

Here are the reviews of the other Metro Manila Film Festival 2012 entries:

El Presidente
One More Try
Shake, Rattle, and Roll 14: The Invasion
Si Agimat, si Enteng, at si Ako
Sisterakas
Sosy Problems
Thy Womb

You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

REVIEW: Amorosa: The Revenge   4 comments

Sky Light Films’ follow up to the very uneven Corazon: Ang Unang Aswang is from the same vein, a horror psycho-thriller helmed by Topel Lee entitled Amorosa: The Revenge. If anything, at least I’d give them credits for finally promoting this one right, unlike its predecessor which was promoted as a straight our horror film, only to see a love story when you watch the actual movie itself.

After a life changing incident that involved both of her kids (Martin Del Rosario, Enrique Gil), Amorosa (Angel Aquino) decides to start anew and move to Tagaytay to manage an inn that a relative tasked her to do. It also means that she will be staying there permanently. However, once there, she started to see a revengeful ghost that keeps on bothering her, as she also tries to fix her relationship with one of her sons who was deeply affected by the childhood incident.

The premise of the movie tends to be half stupid and half unbelievable. The characters were pretty much one note and involves them making one stupid action one after the other. Case in point: if you are in the door and you see a killer inside the house, would you run to the stairs instead of going out and locking him inside the house?  The primary question that they want to pose to readers involves a Sophie’s Choice type of consequence which actually leaves them in a lose-lose situation; hence, they are probably pretty much subjected to end up with the fates that they had.

The movie tried to cover all areas. Revengeful ghosts? Check. Hide and seek inside the house? Check. Ghostly apparitions? Check. Hallucinations? Check. It’s as if they came up with a list of the most cliched horror ingredients, and they accomplished all of that in one film. I noticed that there are some areas that actually worked, but they got overshadowed with the attempt to do everything in it. The movie also suffered from continuing to open a lot of stories that weren’t closed which made the movie overlong. I swear to God, this is one movie when you can already see it ending, yet it still goes on and on and on and on.

Angel Aquino tries her best to overcome her character, and she actually did. She was emotional and convincing; she makes it feel for you what she’s feeling. And of course, it’s always a delight to see her take lead credits in the big screen. Martin del Rosario wasn’t given that much to do, but I like that he’s being given all these breaks because he certainly deserves it. Enrique Gil shows some potential, but tends to resort to overacting in the latter parts of the movie. I find Ejay Falcon’s hair ridiculous, but I think it worked on his advantage in this film. Empress was meh since she wasn’t given a lot of things to do.  I somewhat enjoyed the character actors in this film despite limited screentime, though Nanding Josef was very effective in his two scenes in the film.

The potential with Amorosa was actually there. It just got lost with everything that is happening in the film. If they only focused on one instead of trying to fit in every single thing they can think of, I’m certain we could have seen a better version of this one.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

REVIEW: The Reunion   2 comments

There has been a long wait for a movie that will incorporate the iconic songs of Eraserheads , and the moment has finally came when it materialized via Frasco Mortiz’s barkada movie The Reunion starring four of the most popular actors now: Enchong Dee, Xian Lim, Enrique Gil, and Kean Cipriano.

The movie talks about how four close friends realized that they’ve been living a life of failures after being the “it boys” in high school when they attended their reunion years after. Pat (Cipriano) is still a wannabe actor who wants to make it a big by auditioning on different reality and talent searches. Boggs (Gil) is a hyper sexual man who was once a basketball varsity jock. Joax (Lim) works as a valet who brings disaster one after the other while Lloyd (Dee) is afraid to move on with his life and is stuck with being a low key photoshop editor. The movie progresses as each one of them tries to correct and improve their own lives.

There’s so much potential with the material that one can’t help but expect at least a decent material when they enter the movie house. It is very much advisable to leave all those expectations once you reach the ticket booth. This movie looks like a pilot of a teen series that will be canceled mid-season. There’s nothing that hasn’t been done before that this film did not incorporate. As if that’s not good enough, there’s also nothing that they did to make it at least innovative.

Now once the film hits its drama stride, things get worse. Whether it’s failed relationships, broken legs, and predictable twists, there’s nothing that can redeem this mess of a film from being a further mess. There were also some unnecessary transitions, sitcom level flashbacks, and an E-heads revival every now and then.

The chemistry among the four leads was passable at times, but overloading us with edited images of them won’t convince us that they’ve been friends forever. The four actors work better when they are tackling their individual storylines rather than being altogether in a scene. Even the female cast leaves no desire to have chemistry at all.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some funny scenes that I can think of, but the overall feeling of this film (together with the material they used) is such a wasted effort. Eraserheads fans and loyalists deserve better than this.

Rating: 1.5 /5